The Awl put it well, if sadly, in light of today’s news. “At Least Pussy Riot Won the West,” reads a 16 August headline of a piece on the outpouring of support the jailed feminist punk rockers have received from international human rights groups, celebrities like Paul McCartney and Madonna, and ordinary citizens from London to New York City.

Today, a Moscow court convicted Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich of “hooliganism” for briefly performing a protest song against President Vladimir Putin at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior. The judge handed down two-year prison sentences as hundreds of protesters, including chess great Garry Kasparov, shouted “Free Pussy Riot!” outside the courthouse.

In New York City, where I am, a solidarity march is underway. And last night, hundreds if not thousands of New Yorkers wrapped around Broadway and 29th St. down to 28th St. for a public reading at the Ace Hotel by Chloe Sevigny and others of the band members’ final statements, delivered last week and translated into English by n+1 magazine.

It was the longest curbside line I’ve seen in Manhattan since Thom Yorke’s Atoms for Peace played the Roseland Ballroom last year. I was one of the many people turned away when the venue quickly hit capacity, but was impressed by how many passerby, inquiring about the queue, knew of Tolokonnikova, Alyokhina, Samutsevich and their plight.

“We’re here in solidarity with Pussy Riot,” someone told a passerby.

“Oh, yes, good for you,” the woman replied.

That three young women who have never released a song or album have drawn the world’s attention to a creeping autocracy is remarkable. After all, before Pussy Riot how many Americans were paying attention to Putin’s human rights record? (A record that has only gotten worse since Putin retook the presidency in May).

And while saying “Pussy Riot won despite the verdict” seems inappropriate since two of the band members have young children, the dissident artists, as Tolokonnikova called the band last week, have made an enormous contribution to the anti-Putin opposition. Regardless of your opinion of the band’s protest methods, which even Mikhail Khodorkovsky called “youthful radicalism,” the state’s response is outrageous – the reaction of a paranoid, repressive, desperate regime that, thanks to Pussy Riot, is now firmly under the microscope.

Picture of a 17 August Pussy Riot solidarity rally outside the Russian embassy in London from flickr

S. Adam Cardais

S. Adam Cardais is a TOL contributing editor. Email: adam.cardais@tol.org.

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